Cross-posted at OpenLeft.com
The smoke is starting to clear from the most intense two weeks (not involving an actual Election Day) in American politics ever. The Republican convention was a success, and we are in for a hell of a ride, but the race is still wide open. We have an epic fall race full of history and drama.
With the outlines clear, I believe this race will turn on four things:
1. Winning the debate over whether McCain/Palin are reformers or more of the same. Alright, so this is an obvious point, but it's pretty damn central to everything else. If swing voters are convinced of the former, we have little chance of winning this thing. If it's the latter, we win in a cakewalk. Both parties did a solid job of making their case in their respective convention weeks, but one of the mistakes the McCain campaign did make last week was Rick Davis declaring that "this election is not about the issues." I am convinced that we- the Obama campaign, the blogosphere, progressive groups, everybody- need to do everything in our power to make Davis and Charlie Black celebrities. These guys have been lobbyists for foreign countries (including Saudi Arabia, for God's sake), and some of the sleaziest corporate actors around. We need to make them the poster boys for more of the same. And continuing to tie McCain to every single position he has that is identical to Bush.
2. Defining Sarah Palin. I give the Republicans a lot of credit for fighting through these very rough first three days after her announcement, defending her to the hilt, and winning the first round on the war of definition. If they continue to win that war, and she continues to fire up Republican base voters without turning off swing voters, she will be a bigger help than VP picks usually are.
The thing is, though, that between the Troopergate scandal and cover-up, the Alaska Independence Party connections, the far-right views on multiple issues, and minister/church connections that make Jeremy Wright look like Billy Graham, we have the potential to make her a big drag on the ticket, something that really sews doubt and nervousness in swing voters and motivates our base voters.
I think the blogosphere is critical in this part of the campaign. The Obama campaign is going to be focused on the McSame is out of touch message, and may also be wary of a frontal assault on Palin, but the blogosphere could really keep pushing out info to the traditional media on her. They won't pick up on all of it, but I think we can push a lot of attention-grabbing material out to reporters, and make it hard for them to ignore it.
3. Rural/small-town voters. With the Palin pick, it is now clear that one of the central electoral/demographic strategies for McCain is rural and small-town voters. They are clearly working hard every day to create this fiction that we don't like Palin because she comes from a small town, and the Obama campaign has to fight back hard against that. The rumor-mongering about Obama's "scary" background will also continue unceasingly. In spite of higher numbers of young and black voters, I am convinced that we will not be able to win Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, or all those western states we're looking at without doing better than Kerry and Gore did with rural and small-town voters. With Obama likely to turn out big numbers of young and black voters, McCain's best shot is to run up the margins with rural/small-town voters.
The bus tours Obama and Biden have been going on are a great tactic, as are doing the smaller town-hall events they've been doing. Picking a VP from Scranton and Wilmington helps a lot, too. But the Obama folks need to be focused very hard on working this demographic with everything they can muster. Everything we can do to make these voters more comfortable with this ticket is critically important.
4. Who will get more out of their base? With the Palin pick, McCain has woken up the Republican base. They will be volunteering for the campaign, giving money to it, and turnout out in big numbers. And they will be attacking Obama with newly impassioned fervor.
Our base has been pretty excited, too. But the Obama campaign needs to engage them more- get their help in attacking and defining McCain, get their help on defining Palin, get their help on voters registration and GOTV, get their help on raising more money. There is a whole network of people and organizations that are energized to help, but are not currently being engaged. With Palin now firing up enthusiasm on their side, we need to stoke that enthusiasm on ours, and use the very real communications, research, field, and fundraising resources we have on our side outside the campaign. A failure to take advantage of that would be criminal.